OT – 22 December 1906 “F” [Graham, Skipness] “The Scale of the Highland Bagpipe Chanter”

The Oban Times, 22 December, 1906

The Scale of the Highland Bagpipe Chanter

18 December, 1906

Sir,–Discussion of this subject appears to me to lose much of its usefulness, if the technical terms, which must necessarily be employed, are not explained for the benefit of those who have not made a study of music from the scientific point of view.

Before dealing with the letter from Dr. Bannatyne, dated Nov. 26th, which appeared in your columns, a venture to give shortly the definitions of certain words.

Sound is caused by the vibrations of a sonorous body. If these vibrations follow one another irregularly the result is what we call noise. If they be regular and periodic the result is a musical sound, usually called a note. The rapidity with which vibrations follow each other determines the pitch of a sound. The difference in pitch between two sounds is called an interval. It is with these intervals on the Highland bagpipe chanter that we are mainly concerned, and in considering the question it is most important to remember that the relative value of notes is not affected by the pitch of the whole series.

Dr. Bannatyne states that “the chanter scale is in the key of D.” He then gives figures to prove the correctness of this statement. The figures show a difference of about half a semi-time in three of the intervals. This entirely changes the character of the scale and makes it impossible to agree that the notes of the Drummond chanter correspond to the series G, A, B, C #, D, P, F #, G, A, or f ¹,s ¹, l ¹, t ¹, d, r, m, f, s (doh= D) of the modern diatonic scale.

Dr. Bannatyne suggests that Major-General Thomason’s investigations are weakened by a preconceived idea that the chanter scale is an ancient one. In view of the fact that the Drummond chanter dates from the beginning of the fifteenth century, this idea it appears to be well-founded. Further, does not Dr. Bannatyne lay himself open to the charge of being influenced by a preconceived idea that the modern diatonic or “piano” scale is the Alpha and Omega of musical scales, overlooking the fact that it was a product of the eighteenth century, and was rendered necessary by the increasing elaboration of musical instruments and composition?

Scales may be arranged as fancy dictates, but the foundation of all music is laid on a natural law.

If any of your readers are sufficiently interested in this question to wish to understand this law, it is clearly set forth in various musical treatises, and I cannot do better than refer them to chapter v, of “The Scientific Basis of Music” by W. H. Stone, published by Novello & Co., London; price, 1s. –I am, etc.,

F [Graham, Skipness]